Cal Women's Basketball: Will Kristine Anigwe Be a First-Team All-American?

Kristine Anigwe (31) has to work for everything she gets with opponents double- and triple-teaming her.Photo by Kelley Cox - USA TODAY Sports

Bears' star has a lot going for here, but one factor stands in her way

Should Cal senior Kristine Anigwe be a first-team All-American?

Will Anigwe be a first-team All-American?

The questions are simple. The answers are not.

Fold all the factors into the discussion and you still can’t reach a solid conclusion regarding Anigwe’s All-American chances because of one glaring factor – which we will address a bit later.

If Anigwe were to be named a first-team Associated Press All-American it would be a first for Cal.

The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association has been selecting a 10-player All-American team since 1975, and only two Cal players have been named to that squad – Milica Vukadinovic in 1993 and Brittany Boyd in 2015.

The U.S. Basketball Writers have been naming a women’s All-American team since 1988, and Ashley Walker is the only Cal player ever named by that group, being part of its 11-player All-American team in 2009.

But the AP All-American first team has become the gold standard, partly because of its exclusivity, with just five players named to the first team, five to the second team and five to the third. AP has been naming All-American squads since 1995, and, so far, Cal has been shut out from its first-team picks.

Though Anigwe was not named to the AP first-, second- or third-team All-American squads in any of the past three years, it seems likely she will at least be named to the second or third team this time around.

But the first team?

Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who was a Bears assistant coach during Walker’s junior season and the Bears head coach when Boyd played, does not hesitate to say Anigwe is the best player she has ever coached.

And she says Anigwe deserves first-team All-American status.

“I think so,” she said. “There’s really a ton of incredible players this year. But her stats, her numbers, her competitiveness stand up against anyone. If we were winning more, she might be national player of the year.”

Ah, there’s the rub: If we were winning more . . .

Gottlieb says the elements that should be considered when determining an All-American are “a combination of stats, the competition you’re facing, the eye test, the team’s success, level of consistency.”

Anigwe’s numbers are beyond reproach. She ranks seventh in the country in scoring at 22.9 points per game, and she leads the nation in rebounding by the unprecedented margin of 2.5 rebounds per game with her average of 15.9.

Check the “stats” box.

She plays in what might be the best conference in the country, and the Pac-12 is certainly among the top three. In her nine games against teams that are ranked in this week’s AP poll, Anigwe’s averages improved to 23.2 points per game and 17.1 rebounds per contest.

Check the “level of competition” box.

Anyone who has seen Anigwe battle through constant double- and triple-teaming virtually every time she gets the ball has seen what she has to go through to be productive. Her athleticism and explosiveness are on display every minute of the game, and the fact that she leads the nation in free-throw attempts indicates how much defensive attention she attracts. What she lacks in versatility, she makes up for in toughness.

There is a reason Anigwe is expected to be taken in the first round of the 2019 WNBA draft, with Gottlieb claiming “she might be the most pro-ready player.”

Check the “eye test” box.

Anigwe has had a double-double in every game this season, something no other Division I player can claim.

Check the “level of consistency” box.

That leaves one box blank, and it may be the most important one – team success.

Of the 120 first-team All-Americans AP has selected, only seven came from teams that were unranked in the final AP poll.

Last year all five first-team selections came from teams ranked among the top seven in the country. The year before that, four were from teams ranked in the top five, and the fifth came the No. 12 team. And it goes on and on like that, with teams in the top 10 claiming the vast majority of first-team All-Americans.

All seven of the first-team All-Americans that were not on ranked teams the past 24 years were on teams that won at least 19 games and had a winning conference record.

At 16-11 overall and 7-9 in the Pac-12, Cal cannot finish with a winning conference record, will have to work to win more than 19 games and is unlikely to wind up ranked.

And despite Anigwe’s impressive production against ranked teams, the Bears went 2-7 in those games.

Look across the country, and you have eight players from teams currently ranked among the nation’s top seven teams that will get first-team All-American consideration: Baylor’s Kalani Brown, Connecticut’s Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier, Louisville’s Asia Durr, Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale, Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu and Stanford’s Alanna Smith. Add in Megan Gustafson, the nation’s leading scorer from No. 12 Iowa, is it’s hard to find a place for Anigwe.

Conference players of the year seem to get extra consideration for All-American status, but Anigwe is unlikely to be named the Pac-12 player of the year, an honor that probably will to go to Ionescu.

It leaves considerable doubt that Anigwe will be an AP first-team All-American, and some uncertainty as to whether she will be selected to the second team.

The Bears face the Washington schools this week before heading into the Pac-12 tournament, and what would help Anigwe’s All-American campaign most is for Cal to go on a winning streak that would take the Bears deep into the conference tournament. Reaching the NCAA Tournament is essential, and although Cal seems likely to earn an at-large berth at the moment, a bad loss or two could jeopardize that status.

Let's just say this: It will be an injustice if Anigwe is not named to the 10-player WBCA 10-player All-American team.

“I understand as a team we have some work to do to make sure she is perceived in the best light,” Gottlieb said. “(But) anyone that doesn’t think she is one of the top 10 players hasn’t been watching.”

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